Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) blasted the “antisemitic double standard” Israel is held to by the left and accused the radical anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of “inflicting” “stupidity, moral bankruptcy, and absurdity” on American politics as LGBTQ activists “defend a terrorist organization that systematically murders LGBTQ people.”
Appearing at the Israeli American Council’s (IAC) national summit in Florida on Saturday, Torres weighed in on attacks on the Jewish state, calling for the BDS movement to be “relegated to the fringes of American politics” as he described the “heavy political price” of supporting Israel as a progressive Democrat in New York City.
Highlighting his youth as “a poor kid in the Bronx” raised by a single mother working at minimum wage, Torress attributed his achievements and moral choices to her parenting.
“When I won my primary in June of 2020, I publicly said that I would not be where I am today were it not for my mom,” he said.
Attributing his successful run for public office to hard work, he heaped praise upon the country after having become the youngest member of the New York City Council and the “youngest elected official in America’s largest city.”
“America is the land of opportunity,” he said. “It’s the land of second chances, and my story is living proof.”
Support for Israel
After announcing plans to travel to Israel as a New York City Council member, he described being “struck” by all the vitriol directed against him.
“I was accused of betraying my race, supporting an apartheid state; I was accused of pinkwashing — which is a term I had never heard before — and there were a set of pro-BDS activists who held a rally on the steps of City Hall specifically demonizing me,” he said.
He noted witnessing an LGBTQ activist with a shirt reading “Queers for Palestine” and asking her opinion on the Hamas terrorist group.
“She said, ‘I support Hamas because Hamas represents the liberation of the Palestinian people,’” he said, “and at that moment I found myself in a state of shock.”
“For a moment I thought I was hallucinating,” he continued, “but I said to myself, the fact that an LGBTQ activist could defend a terrorist organization that systematically murders LGBTQ people — that to me is as definitive a sign as any of the stupidity and moral bankruptcy and absurdity that BDS has inflicted on American politics.”
He also described the challenge of supporting Israel as a progressive Democrat in New York City.
“If you’re a Republican, it’s easy to be pro-Israel; if you’re a moderate Democrat in a moderate district, it’s still easy to be pro-Israel,” he said. “But if you are a progressive Democrat in New York City, you have to pay a heavy political price.”
That price, according to Torres, includes harassment and even death threats.
“I’ve had to face intimidation and harassment on Twitter. I’ve had to face death threats. I’m likely to face a primary challenge because of my positions,” he said, though he added, “I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing and I’m going to [continue to do so].”
Israel-Gaza Conflict and Antisemitism
While unapologetically stating Israel had a right to self-defense during this year’s Gaza conflict, Torres blasted the “double standard” the Jewish state is held to.
“For me, the progressive position is the coexistence of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, not the existence of one to the exclusion of other,” he said.
“It’s inexplicable to me Israel is held to a double standard,” he added.
He also stated that, as a sovereign state, Israel deserved the same right to protect its citizens that other countries do.
“Back in May, I spoke out forcefully,” he said. “For me, Israel is a sovereign state and with state sovereignty comes the right of self-defense, a right that every country, including the United States, takes for granted, and no one questions the United States for exercising the right of self-defense.”
“For me, it is unreasonable to expect a country like Israel to forfeit the right of self-defense and stand by passively in the face of relentless rocket fire,” he added.
Torres said he’d often ask critics in the U.S., “If you and your neighbors were the target of thousands of rockets, what would you expect your government to do?”
“We all expect our government to defend us, to keep us safe,” he said. “And so for me it was a no-brainer.”
Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, who said the greatest tragedy “was not the striding clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people,” Torres said, “In May, there were far too many good people who were appallingly silent when Israel’s existence and legitimacy and self-defense was under siege.”
“My mother taught me the most important value in life is integrity,” he added. “When you see something wrong, you have an obligation to say something and instead of standing by passively, I spoke out.”
Referencing the surge in antisemitic sentiment online as well as physical attacks against Jews “in daylight” during May’s Israel-Gaza conflict, Torres warned that divisive rhetoric has “real-world consequences.”
“I think we saw in the month of May the amplification of anti-Zionism on platforms like Twitter lead to antisemitic violence,” he said, noting a specific attack on a Jewish-identified individual in Times Square as well as explosive devices thrown at Jewish neighborhoods in New York.
“So the rhetoric that we use has real-world consequences and I think those of us who are public officials have to be mindful of the words we use,” he added. “We should use words that promote peace rather than incite hatred.”
Torres criticized the use of “inflammatory language like ‘apartheid’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocide,’” terms often used by anti-Israel activists, most notably members of the congressional “Squad,” to portray the Jewish state — the only democracy in the Middle East — as a gross violator of human rights.
“[By doing so], you’re not promoting peace. You’re inciting hatred,” he said. “You’re not part of the solution. You’re part of the problem.”
Noting that his district — the South Bronx — is “overwhelmingly Latino and African American,” he claimed that one needn’t suffer antisemitism to oppose it.
“I reject the notion that you have to be Jewish to fight antisemitism any more than you have to be black to fight racism,” he said.
“I’m willing to call out antisemitism in my own backyard,” he added.
Double Standards Against Israel
Claiming New York City has become “ground zero for democratic socialism,” he accused the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) of having “blurred [the] line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism” by questioning every City Council candidate’s willingness to “pledge never to travel to Israel if elected to the City Council” and “pledge to support the BDS movement.”
“For me, that’s just one of many examples of the blurred line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism,” he said.
Torres claimed that such hypocrisy toward the Jewish state was clear for all to see.
“For me, one need not be Jewish or Israeli to see clearly the antisemitic double standard against Israel,” he said.
“The notion that Israel’s existence should be the subject of debate is outrageous and offensive,” he added, “and the BDS movement should be relegated to the fringes of American politics, which is precisely where it belongs.”
He also questioned why a BDS movement existed solely for Israel.
“Why is there no BDS movement against China for committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims?” he asked. “Or against Myanmar for ethnically cleansing Rohingya Muslims? Or against Iran for being the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world? Or against Turkey by occupying Northern Cyprus?”
“I have a simple question: If the selective outrage and delegitimization of Israel is not explained by antisemitism, then what exactly explains it?” he asked.
Last year, Torres cited his support for Israel as his reason he would not join the the so-called “Squad,” which includes Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
“I came to observe that there are activists who have a visceral hatred for Israel as though it were the root of all evil,” he said. “The act of singling out Israel as BDS has done is the definition of discrimination.”
Human rights groups and leftist activists have a history of double standards toward Israel as they obsess over Israel’s alleged treatment of Palestinians while routinely ignoring Palestinian oppression against their own.
Despite Israel’s depiction as an apartheid state, Arab citizens enjoy the same rights guaranteed to Jewish and other citizens and are represented in all the branches of government, currently holding a prominent position in the government coalition.
Palestinians, on the other hand, are deprived of basic freedoms — freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights — under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and under Hamas in Gaza.
LGBTQ Palestinians are under constant threat, with many having sought refuge in Israel.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein